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Indian Spirit charts NASA's Martian course

Two Indian-American engineers have made critical contributions to the National Aeronautics Space Agency rover Spirit's successful landing on the Red Planet.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2004 14:44 IST

Indians abroad, going places for some time now, have reached Mars in their own way.

Two Indian-American engineers have made critical contributions to the National Aeronautics Space Agency (Nasa) rover Spirit's successful landing on the Red Planet.

Prasun N. Desai, aerospace engineer at Nasa's Langley Research Centre, Virginia, is said to be the brain behind Spirit's entry, descent and landing system. And it was computer engineer Kanna Rajan's team that developed the software for Spirit.

For Desai this is a time for quiet satisfaction. But on January 4 he was all keyed up at the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena as the spacecraft had to decelerate from 12,000 miles an hour to 960 miles an hour within four minutes, after which the parachutes had to deploy two minutes before landing.

"Three-and-a-half years of work comes down to the last six minutes," Desai commented in a media account after the landing.

But for Rajan, the day of reckoning is around midnight on Tuesday when Spirit rolls off the lander platform.

The rover will drive around the planet and scoop up rocks for experiments, guided by the software that Rajan and his colleagues developed.

"There's a fair amount of risk. You can damage the arm, you can damage the rover, and that's the end of the mission," the 41-year-old principal investigator and senior scientist at Nasa's Ames Research Centre in California, told the Star-Telegram, a Texas daily.

Rajan is the second Indian from the University of Texas to hit the headlines in recent times. The first was the late astronaut, Kalpana Chawla.

First Published: Jan 12, 2004 14:44 IST